Sonia’s Arroz Con Pollo
By Natalie Sztern on January 10, 2011
My in-laws were Holocaust Survivors who met each other in Europe and
married in Cuba. This after living in Paris for a couple of years.
They then emigrated to Canada and its many provinces and finally wound
up in Montreal. They spoke Spanish, Polish, French, English, Russian,
German and Yiddish.
McGill University was always the standard to attain for us
Montrealers and since we didn’t go by Grade Point Averages in the olden
days; I was lucky enough to get in and study Psychology. That is
where I met Henry. AND ARROZ CON POLLO CAME INTO MY LIFE.
Out of all the meals and dishes I ate from the table of the Szterns there was one that stood out. It was the one that made me put on so much weight that my Bridal Gown had to be let out.
I had never tasted anything like this. It had saffron and it was
tender and juicy and just divine. No matter when she served it; the
conversation ALWAYS turned to Jack. And Jack’s mother.
I am not sure if I have the story right or not but I believe it goes
like this: Jack was born in Cuba and was accepted to study at McGill University.
It was at McGill that my brother-in-law met Jack and such a good
friendship followed that my in-laws invited Jack to study and live them
in Montreal, so that he could get his degree here. Jack's parents were
moving back to Florida and since education in those days at McGill was
next to nothing out of pocket it was logical that he stay to get a
McGill University education. Years later, though the Dean was a family
member, my kids did not get to enjoy such an education.
Jack was nothing short of another son to both my father and mother–in-law and a dear friend to Henry and Stephen.
I have never met Jack. I don’t even think he was at our wedding
because by then he had graduated and moved. He wound up, from what I
have been told, a prominent lawyer in Florida, who fell madly in love
with a gorgeous girl named Mindy and made his life there. Why Henry
couldn’t move me to Florida is just mind-boggling; and frankly I am at
the point in my life where I am pissed. Which is why I want to get fat
on Arroz Con Pollo.
I boldly emailed Jack for the recipe since it began with Sonia, his
mother. I could not let this recipe get away and be lost forever from
However a shout goes out to Mindy because she was smart enough to get the recipe from her mother-in-law and I wasn’t.
I have just one caveat about this recipe and it goes to its integrity. In its original form Jack’s mother and my M-I-L used ‘bijol’.
I had to google it and found that it is the Latin equivalent to a food
coloring which is cheaper than saffron, giving off the red color; but
doesn’t give the same taste. I was always told that Saffron was used.
Indeed I have learned what Bijol is and how it is used and much of
that has to do with the company who answered my email with extreme
Not knowing if it's ratio is equal I wrote to Aaron Sanchez, who told me it is used in equal ratios. Thank you for such a quick answer. I also wrote to www.bijol.com,
a family run company on the net, who wrote back with a little more
detail and told me that 1 teaspoon of bijol is equivalent to 3 strands
of Saffron. Actually I will quote him as he was very very informative
and probably actually read my email:
"The quantity that people use of Bijol depends
on the intensity of the color they are looking for. Cuban grandmothers
add a little at a time and stir. Once they achieve the color they are
looking for they stop. We have recipes on our website www.bijol.com
and there are many on the internet too. We hope this helps you.
Nevertheless, I will get back to you with my Dad’s comments. As you can
tell, we are a family owned business since 1922. I am third generation
and you are the first to ask me this question. I am sure my
grandfather knew the answer right away."
THIS IS THE PICTURE TAKEN FROM THEIR WEBSITE
Also written down, which I found very interesting, was the name of
the wine she used. It is a ‘cooking wine’ still sold in Latin markets
called Vino Seco Edmundo -a dry white cooking wine. Of course I would
not suggest you use a cooking wine; but invest in buying a dry white
wine you would actually sit down and drink; then cook with it. Never
cook with a wine you would not drink…That is a classic mistake and an
absolute ‘never do’.
I made the assumption that this recipe is for 10 servings since it
uses 30 pieces of chicken. Now, the chicken is cut up into 8ths (8
pieces). Each normal person eats 3 pieces: so 3 into 30 = 10.
Do not stray away from the Garlic Salt. Some recipes must stay true
to their original for. Especially those handed down through
generations. Although I did suggest extra virgin olive oil as opposed
to vegetable oil which is just as good. I only cook with olive oil and
even then it is always extra virgin, though it doesn’t have to be; it
can be just an olive oil.
THANKS JACK AND MINDY. (FedEx is on its way....with me!!!)
I COULD NOT DECIDE WHICH PICTURE I LIKED THE BEST OF THE CHICKEN-I AM INSERTING ALL
A Special Tribute to both my Mother-in-Law Terry and Mindy's Mother-in-Law....I present,
SONIA'S ARROZ CON POLLO
INGREDIENTS FOR 10 SERVINGS:
30 pcs Chicken, washed and dried
Garlic salt to season front and back of chicken to taste as desired
2 tb Extra virgin olive oil
4 large Onions, chopped
2 Green peppers diced, optional
28 oz can Tomato sauce
4 large Bay Leaves
3 tb dry Oregano, to taste
2 tb Garlic salt, additional
3 c dry White wine, Vino seco
5 c Water
1 cube Chicken bouillon, Knorr
1/2 tsp Saffron or Bijol: to use Saffron you must first add water to
the stems and let it sit. This increases the flavor of Saffron
4 cups Rice
Wash and dry the Chicken pieces. Season them with Garlic salt front and back as desired and to taste.
In a large spaghetti pot, cook Onions in Olive oil until soft. Add
the Peppers (optional), Tomato sauce, Bay leaves, Oregano and the
additional Garlic salt to taste.
Add the Water, Wine and the seasoned Chicken pieces into the pot and
bring it to a boil. Lower the heat to a simmer, cover and cook 1/2 hr.
Add the Chicken bouillon cube and 1/2 tsp Saffron(or bijol) and make
sure that the Chicken is covered with liquid. Can add more Water and
Cook on a simmer till Chicken is cooked for approximately 1 hour more.
When Chicken is done remove the pieces, and the Bay Leaves and add the Rice to
the liquid. Cover and cook rice for 20 minutes or until done.
Ratio of Rice to liquid is 1 c rice = 2 c liquid.
PROLOGUE TO RECIPE: PLEASE READ
This dish was everything I remembered in taste. However I did discover
a few changes that need to be made and I will re-post this dish with
pictures, when I am able to come across the spice called Bijol,
whereas my mother-in-law said she used Saffron, I believe that indeed
what she did use is what the original recipe called for which is
Bijol. Perhaps some Saffron as well. Henry remembered that the dish
was definitely much redder than what I served. Bijol.com said that
'Cuban Grandmothers would use it until they achieved the color they
wanted'. That makes sense to me now, after having made it for the first
used quite a bit of Saffron, which gave it that unique taste, but it
didn't make a dent in the color of the rice, although the taste was
definitely there. To get the rice that red would have meant far too
much Saffron. I believe, and in fact Henry remembers, that his mother
used to pour a red powder, from little yellow and red packets she kept
in a special drawer, into the Arroz Con Pollo when she made it.
Lamozas got back to me via email after talking with his father and he
responded after I had made the dish with the following suggestion from
"My Dad said that 1 teaspoon of Bijol is approximately 3 strands of Saffron. We hope this helps you out. Please get back to us once you use Bijol and tell us how the meal turned out."
After completing the Arroz Con Pollo and seeing that it was not as
red in colour as I remembered my Mother-in-law's to be I did some
homework and found a Latin Supermarket in the East End of Montreal. It
was there that I found Bijol and bought the following little bottles.
I will talk more about this wonderful Supermarket and the huge Latin population I did not know Montreal had.
Moral: follow Sonia's recipe as is.
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